Saturday, October 5, 2013

Natalie Takes the Maines Stage

Natalie Maines headlining the Star Stage at the 13th
annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco
Faced with the daunting decision of which headliner to watch at this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, I decided against Robert Earle Keen, Steve Earle and Los Lobos and went for Natalie Maines, since I'd just re-read that she signed an open letter to President Obama calling for an end to the injustice of the war on drugs in April.

I made the right choice. Maines blew the crowd away with incendiary vocals and songs, belting out a strong set backed by her five-piece band. She's broken away from her country roots and is rocking out, hard, with a voice and a sensibility that are made for it.

The Dixie Chicks, fronted by Maines, were the Pussy Riot of their day: nearly blacklisted, they received death threats after announcing they were ashamed that George W. Bush was also from Texas when he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The mother of two boys, Maines's first solo album Mother was released in May to critical acclaim (only one review I saw lamented the loss of the Chicks' harmony vocals). At the New York Daily News, Jim Farber called it "a flat-out masterpiece, an ideal match of singer and songs that moves Maines from being a skilled and decorative singer into one of the most emotive vocalists of our time." On the disc, she covers Roger Waters' song "Mother" for the title track and selects material by Eddy Vedder and Jeff Buckley. She also co-wrote two songs with Ben Harper, including "Take It On Faith," with which she ended her show tonight.

Take it on faith
That I’ll be there
When the pain comes
And I’ll take it all on faith
That you will try, try not to run
When it’s hard, so hard

We can take it on faith that Maines is not one to run away from a fight. She will perform in Napa tomorrow (Oct. 6) and in LA on October 8. Catch her if you can.

Postscript: I just uncovered that Maines appeared on a historic Politically Incorrect episode in 1998 with Woody Harrelson and medical marijuana activist Todd McCormick. It seems perhaps her opinions have "evolved" since then.

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